AFC East: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Rex Ryan fell hard for Calvin Pryor the first time he saw him. So did the wide receiver that was knocked cold after getting leveled by the former Louisville safety.

During the season, Ryan watched the tape of the opening series of the Louisville-Central Florida game in October. On the second play of the game, UCF's Blake Bortles tossed a 15-yard completion to wide receiver J.J. Worton, who ran up the left sideline. In came Pryor, who lowered his shoulder into Worton, dislodging the ball. The ball rolled out of bounds and Worton was flat on his back. He never returned to the game. Six plays later, Pryor made a brilliant, one-handed interception in the end zone, somehow managing to get one foot down as he juggled the ball.

[+] EnlargeCalvin Pryor
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesThis end-zone interception by Calvin Pryor against Blake Bortles and Central Florida made an impression on New York Jets coach Rex Ryan.
Ryan was sold.

"I was like, 'That's a pretty good start,'" the New York Jets' coach said late Thursday night after Pryor was picked in the first round.

Ryan neglected to mention that, with 23 seconds left in the game, Pryor was one of three defenders that left wide receiver Jeff Godfrey wide open in the end zone. Bortles tossed a short touchdown pass to Godfrey to culminate a 75-yard drive, lifting UCF to a 38-35 upset against the Cardinals, who were undefeated and ranked sixth in the country. Pryor was the closest defender to Godfrey, arriving a split-second too late. That, of course, would have ruined Ryan's anecdote.

The bitter finish notwithstanding, Pryor is well-respected in the NFL scouting community. It was a surprise pick for the Jets, whom many expected to select a cornerback, but it wasn't a bad pick.

"He's an upgrade over (Antonio) Allen, who I think is a backup," said an opposing personnel executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "He's an athletic kid, can run-support and tackle. He plays with good tempo and he's a willing contact player. He's got good instincts and can play in zones and space. He's an interchangeable guy at strong safety and free safety."

Former Washington Redskins general manager Vinny Cerrato, an ESPN radio analyst, studied Pryor closely and compared him to former Indianapolis Colts star Bob Sanders. You may recall that Sanders, a 5-foot-8, 206-pound sledgehammer, was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2007. Unfortunately, his career was shortened by a spate of injuries.

"I love the pick, I love the player," Cerrato said Friday morning. "He fits their defensive temperament. He'll bring attitude. He reminds me of Sanders that way. He'll come up and hit you. He's very aggressive in the run game, almost too aggressive. He gets a little out of control and will miss on occasion, but you can live with that. Is he a great center fielder? I'd say he's average, but he can play deep in Rex's defense. The fans will love him. He's fun to watch."

Pryor was the first safety off the board, but he wasn't the best safety in the draft, according to two top draft analysts. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was rated higher by ESPN's Todd McShay and the NFL Network's Mike Mayock. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. gave a slight edge to Pryor. Here's how each player stacked up in the overall rankings:

Kiper Jr.: Pryor, 18th; Clinton-Dix, 19th.

McShay: Pryor, 21st; Clinton-Dix, 13th.

Mayock: Pryor 22nd; Clinton-Dix, 16th.
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DAVIE, Fla. -- It was one of the worst-kept secrets in the NFL draft that the Miami Dolphins desperately needed to fix their offensive line this week. Miami’s weakest unit allowed a franchise-record 58 quarterback sacks and could have as many as four new starters next season. Major changes were needed.

But the first pick of the Dennis Hickey era felt like a reach Thursday night when the Dolphins selected right tackle Ja'Wuan James at No. 19 overall. Most draft experts did not rate James as the 19th-best player in this draft. James said himself that some people told him he was projected to go in the second round. There was a solid chance the Dolphins could've landed James later in the first round by trading down to acquire more picks, which seemed like the best scenario.

However, Hickey said James was the best available player on the Dolphins' draft board. (I have yet to see a general manager willing to admit the opposite.) James was a player Miami did extensive homework on and fits many of the characteristics the team is looking for.

But the big question remains: Did Miami get the right value for this pick?

“We had a couple calls [for trades], but we were just excited about picking Ja'Wuan James and adding him to our roster,” Hickey said. “He’s a guy that definitely fits in from a talent aspect as well as a person, and brings what the Dolphins were all about.”

The draft board did not fall in Miami's favor. The Dolphins were put at a disadvantage when top-tier offensive tackles Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan and Zack Martin were all taken off the board in the first 16 picks. That left the Dolphins with the option of picking the fifth-rated offensive tackle, which is their biggest need, or another position. Miami passed on higher-rated players by the general consensus such as safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, receiver Brandin Cooks and cornerback Darqueze Dennard.

On the positive, James could be a Day 1 starter for Miami. The Dolphins' offensive line was ravaged this offseason due to the loss of offensive tackles Bryant McKinnie and Tyson Clabo in free agency and guards Richie Incognito and John Jerry with last year’s bullying scandal. James started 49 career games at Tennessee in the competitive Southeastern Conference and comes to Miami with plenty of college experience.

“I’m a tough, smart offensive lineman,” James said on a conference call with the Miami media. “I pride myself on being smart and not making many mistakes. I bring athleticism to the table, strength and a lot of experience.”

The Dolphins held the No. 19 pick only twice before in their team history. Miami selected two solid players: offensive lineman Vernon Carey (2004) and defensive end Kim Bokamper (1976) with those picks. Perhaps James can join the aforementioned pair as a quality contributor for the franchise. If that's the case, no one will care several years from now where James was taken. But Hickey's first draft pick in Miami lacks sizzle.
If the extra two weeks of waiting made you anxious, imagine how the New York Jets feel. They've been waiting 16 months.

John Idzik's rebuilding plan, set in motion when he was hired in January 2013, is built largely around the draft -- this draft. He accumulated four compensatory picks and acquired a future pick from the Darrelle Revis trade, giving him a total of 12 selections -- tied with the St. Louis Rams for the most. Idzik was relatively conservative in free agency, using only about half the salary-cap space -- a tactic that raises the stakes even higher.

The fun starts Thursday night. The Jets own the 18th pick -- for now. What to watch for:

1. Biggest needs: The Jets need a lot of things, but cornerback should at the top of the list. Their pass defense was dreadful, allowing nearly 4,000 yards, and the only thing they did in free agency was replace a descending Antonio Cromartie with an injury-prone journeyman, Dimitri Patterson. Rex Ryan's defense is predicated on cornerback play, and his current secondary will get shredded against a "Missiles of October" schedule -- Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in a 12-day span. Idzik doled out $30 million in guarantees to sign outside free agents, with only $1 million going to the defense. As one longtime personnel executive said, "Feed the defense. The only way the Jets win is if they dominate on defense." Obviously, the other glaring need is wide receiver. If you need an explanation, you must have slept through last season.

2. Moving up: Yes, the Jets are interested in trading up, according to a league source. Presumably, their target is Odell Beckham Jr., a smooth, explosive and versatile wide receiver. If this is the plan, they'd better get ahead of the New York Giants (12), who also covet the former LSU star. Based on the draft value chart, they'd have to surrender a third-round pick and two fourth-rounders to switch places with the Tennessee Titans (11). You'd have to question the wisdom of such a move. It's a deep draft, and they could land a comparable player at 18. The Jets have eight tradable picks (compensatory selections can't be dealt), affording Idzik flexibility if he wants to step out of character and ... you know, be aggressive.

3. Names to watch: Wide receiver Brandin Cooks is a popular mock-draft choice for the Jets. Good prospect, solid character, but some scouts wonder if he can be more than a slot receiver because of his size (a shade under 5-foot-10). Wide receiver Marqise Lee also is in the conversation, but this would require a leap of faith, essentially betting he'd be the 2012 version and not the 2013 Lee. The top corners are Darqueze Dennard and Justin Gilbert, although it's quite possible one or both could be gone. Dennard is the better scheme fit, but Gilbert has more upside because of his elite ball skills.

4. Outsider's view: This is how a rival personnel director sees the Jets' situation at 18: "They have two specific team needs -- wide receiver and cornerback. It's a tough decision, but it would be a more difficult decision if there was no value at those position at that point in the first round. But that won't be the case. There will be value at those spots. I also wouldn't dismiss the tight end (Eric Ebron). They're also living with two safeties (Dawan Landry and Antonio Allen) that are borderline starting caliber, so I wouldn't be surprised if they go Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Calvin Pryor."

5. Perspective, please: As you're watching it unfold, remember this: The Jets aren't a couple of players away, or even one draft away, from being a legitimate championship contender. They finished a soft 8-8, and before you take issue with that description, consider this: They were outscored by 97 points, the largest negative point differential for a .500 or better team since the merger in 1970. This draft is just another step in the process, albeit a big step.

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